Monday, April 22, 2013

Lisbon Half Ironman Week 7/9

This was my "peak week" from which I worked backwards when I was designing my training plan. The key session was the brick on Sunday - more on that in a moment - but it has also been a good moment to see what kind of shape I am in. I started the week off with a very fatigued lower back and contractions around my left shoulder (which is separated by a torn ligament from an accident years ago) so I decided to see a physiotherapist. Mónica showed me some strengthening exercises (which I only found time to do once) and put on some Kinesio tape which I found helped.


I don't have too high expectations of my swimming as I haven't really been training very long or hard but I am starting to see some return on my investment. Now I have got the hang of my Garmin Swim watch (updating the firmware also helped) I can see a positive correlation between increased effort and pool speed and I am even seeing my times improving. The biggest obstacle for me as far as swimming goes has been a lack of motivation which I think stems from not having any way to measure my progress, however slow and humble that might be. The Swimnovate watch I used previously doesn't allow you to upload data to the computer for analysis (although the Pro version does) neither does it make it easy to see at what pace you are swimming the intervals.

On Monday I swam the Half Ironman distance (1,900 m) without stopping at a very comfortable pace (starting very easy and gradually working up to a sub HIM pace) and in less than 40 minutes. This might sound horribly slow but, considering that my Half Ironman swim times have been around 36-38 minutes in a wet suit drafting off other athletes and working much harder, I think that I can safely say that my swimming technique has improved. Another thing will be to see whether that translates into a faster time when I have to contend with the churn and chaos of thousands of other swimmers not to mention the tendency I have to veer off course.

On Wednesday I did a workout which was just the right level of challenge to feel satisfying without being too taxing. The idea was to break the Half Ironman distance into ever smaller chunks which I would swim at ever increasing speeds. Interestingly, the Garmin recorded the first two sets as a mix of freestyle with a bit of back stroke and breast stroke thrown in: I think that my technique became more consistent as I warmed up and swam faster. I was pleased to be able to swim each set faster than the previous and the total time (ignoring rest periods, of course) was 37 minutes, not much slower than my best HIM swim time of 36:23.

Swim StrokeDistanceTimeAvg PaceAvg EfficiencyAvg StrokesSPM

On Friday, buoyed by my recent swimming success, I decided I would do a set of 15 minutes at my best guess as to what my Half Ironman pace would be. Normally the swimming pool is practically empty on a Friday but, 10 minutes into my 15 minute set, I was interrupted to move into another lane as a group class was starting which required the use of three of the six lanes of the pool. It would have been nice to have had some kind of warning. Slightly pissed off, I started a second interval of 5 minutes and just two lengths away from the end, I found my lane blocked by a guy who had just joined our lane and was standing next to the other person at the wall. I suppose I would have had to have stopped anyway, as we would have to pass from being two people going up and down each side to three people going round in circles, but the feeling of "circuitus interruptus" was so overwhelming that I tore off my swim cap and goggles, throwing them to the side and stormed out of the pool. I was a bit embarrassed afterwards at my obvious display of frustration but I find it hard enough to control my emotions at the best of times let alone when my heart rate is up and I am suffering. You have to be extra careful in the work gym not to piss other people off as you never know whether that person will be your boss in the future or not...


I went to work on my mountain bike on Thursday as well as doing my series (intervals) on the spinning bike at lunchtime. Over the last few weeks I had built up to doing a set of 9 lots of 4 minutes at a heart rate of around 170-172 bpm. I found this so tiring that I was a bit of a zombie afterwards - not helped by the fact that I continued to sweat profusely long after showering and donning my suit. I couldn't face even riding my bike back from the gym to the office so I convinced a friend of mine to give me a lift there, so tired was I. By  home time I was feeling a bit better and, although I took it easy at first, I was sprinting through Pozuelo to my house by the end. The workout did take a bit of a toll on my back, though, so I limited my training on Friday to a short swim: the important thing was to be ready for the weekend.

So, as I've already said, the big workout of the week - no - the training cycle, was the brick of 2 and a half hours cycling and 1 hour running, including a fair amount of HIM intensity. Perhaps not the best day for it, being the day after my birthday (which, by the way, was appropriately "Record Store Day" - before being a triathlon-nerd I was a deejay in my spare time)... In an attempt to make the workout more appealing, I signed up for a local 10K race taking part in the forest that I often cycle through on the way to work. I figured that I could get up early, do my ride, run the 7 km to the start and treat the race as the higher intensity part of my workout. Dani gave me the idea as he was coming all the way from his house just to take part.

Now, in spite of having a degree in Mathematics, I have never been very good at subtraction. And I can't blame the G&Ts that I had the night before, because this plan was hatched some days prior to my birthday celebration dinner. Some way through the ride, I realized that I wasn't going to arrive before 10:45 am, in time to pick up my race number and toe the start line, but rather an hour after that. But then I thought that I had perhaps confused the start time and that, I had in fact, done the subtraction correctly, and that I had the time of 11 am in my head as the start time for setting off from my house after leaving the bike. It just so happened that it was a small detour to swing past the start on my way back home and, to my dismay, I arrived just before the start (during the 30 second silence in honour of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing) wearing my cycling shoes. I actually seriously contemplated leaving my bike with a race official and running the race in my socks! I realized that this would not have been a very wise idea, especially with my triathlon coming up, so I set off home and prepared myself mentally for doing my run on the treadmill instead. This meant thinking about what film I was going to put on this time in order to take my mind off things. I chose an unfortunately very bad recent adaptation of Hansel and Gretel* (according to IMDB, there were 5 made in 2013 alone) which had the double inconvenience of making my run even more boring as well as making me quite hungry watching people wolfing down cakes and sweets. Again, like last week, I had a gnawing urge to stop running as I was tired, bored and uncomfortable, but it wasn't too difficult to get to the end if I just waited for the time to pass. I was very tired in the afternoon, but not as tired (or indeed grumpy) as last week which was just as well as my parents were staying with us.

Unusually flat (in the middle) for Madrid
As far as the ride itself went, I did the middle section of an hour at an average pulse rate of 148 bpm (a bit on the low side) and an average speed of 34.1 kph, which translates into a HIM bike time of about 2 hours 38 minutes (without aerobars). It is very difficult to ride to a particular pulse rate because of its slow reaction to hills - I suppose this is why the power meter was invented - but I plan to race at about 150-155 bpm for the bike segment of the Lisbon triathlon. I got a bit lost a couple of times and ended up overtaking the same guy twice who then immediately latched onto my back wheel like a limpet both times. I know it shouldn't really bother me, but it does. I find it disconcerting that someone can keep up with me so easily when I am working that hard even if, intellectually, I know that the drafting effect is giving roughly a 10% advantage. Even so, I don't like the idea that they can hear how hard I am having to breathe. I took the same route back as I did last week but, this time, the annoying long hill was nothing like as daunting or energy sapping. The whole ride was just over 80 kms (and 500 m climbing) at an overall average speed of over 31 kph.


As usual, Tuesday was series day both in terms of running series (intervals) and catching up on the TV series "The Following" that I put on while I ran on the treadmill. The ladder workout - which consists of running 1 minute, 2-3-2-1-2-3 at equivalents of 19, 18 and 17 kph - has become progressively easier the more times I have done it. The first time was in a gym in Canary Wharf with an incline of 1%; since then, as my treadmill isn't as powerful, I have replicated it using speeds of 18, 18 and 17.5 kph with inclines of 4.5%, 2.5% and 1%. I remember that the first time I did this version of the workout, I felt quite stiff the next day. Perhaps as a result of the hill running I did in Morocco and Andalucía, my legs are more accustomed to this. Whatever the case, I felt up to doing three ladders this time: it was hard but not overwhelmingly so. In fact, I even felt up to doing a mid tempo run the next day of 15' at Marathon pace (15 kph) followed by 15' at Half Marathon pace (16 kph).

The only other run I did (apart from the brick) was an hour and 40 minutes on Saturday morning. I was quite tired by this point in the week, I have to say, so I considered leaving my Garmin GPS watch behind, which I thought would only demoralize me. It was supposed to be an easy run and the rhythm shouldn't have been important, but I knew I would compare myself to the surprisingly fast 90' I did two weeks before. In fact, as I started running, I thought of writing on this blog that I was feeling my new age of 41 as an excuse. I ran down to the Casa del Campo where my route was cut ever so slightly short by yet another triathlon which was taking place there - I had to make up the extra time with a little loop around my house. I always find it psychologically much harder to keep on running once I have got to my house, rather like that time in the Marathon leg of the Brazil Ironman when I had to run past my hotel before getting to the finish line. However, I was very surprised to see that I had not only run the Half Marathon portion in less than 1 hour and 30 minutes, but I had run the whole way at an average pace of 4:10 per kilometre. It's a fairly hilly course (233 metres of climbing in 24 km) and some bits are quite technical, making it all the more surprising. I expect that if I had had my heart rate monitor on, my pulse would have been outside my aerobic zone by some way but - you may have noticed a shift in my philosophy lately - I am thinking more along the lines of "train slow, race slow; train fast, race fast" these days.

To be honest, I don't think that any one of the paradigms is right for everyone all of the time. "No pain, no gain", "train fast, race fast" or so called polarized training (only low or high intensity) are one-size-fits-all approaches. At the end of the day, there are conflicts between training speed, endurance and strength so the balance is always going to be tricky. The advantage of being a self-trained athlete is that I can play around with what suits me best. I think that the two most important things to take into account are consistency and variety which are as much in competition with each other as speed, endurance and strength. Consistency is necessary for your body to adapt to a training stimulus; variety is necessary if you want your body to continue to adapt and improve. For example, if you always run for an hour at 12 kph, you will become very efficient at doing just that, but not so good at running a 10K race flat out. In sports physiology jargon, I believe these two concepts are known as specific training (consistency) and base training (variety). So, right now the "train fast, race fast" mantra seems to be working for me, so I will stick with it until the marginal gains run out; maybe then I will return to polarized training. For now, I am interested to see whether I am able to coach myself to a Personal Best time in the Half Ironman, after having done so in all the other distances I run. (Not to take merit away from Jonathan, my ex-coach, from whom I have learnt a hell of a lot.)

Monday: 1900 m swim
Tuesday: 3 x (1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' @ 3:10-3:20-3:30) run
Wednesday: progressive 1900 m swim, 30' run (15' @ 4:00, 15' @ 3:45)
Thursday: commute by bike, 9 x 4' @ 170 bpm on spinning bike
Friday: 30' swim (15' easy, 10' + 5' @ HIM pace)
Saturday: 100' run @ 4:10
Sunday: 2 h 30' bike (including 60' @ 150 bpm) + 60' run (20' @ 4:30, 40' @ 3:50)

I thought this review from IMDB of the Hansel and Gretel film I saw was so good that I would copy it here (I hope that neither the author nor IMDB mind):

Oh My God.2 February 2013
Author: Gilad Mitrani from Somewhere near you
Oh My God. This movie sucked a**. I feel as though I should kill myself now. This movie cannot be unseen. I will forever remember it as the worst movie i had ever laid eyes upon. My IQ burned by 20 points while my sense refuses to comprehend why was such an awful movie was ever written, filmed, acted, edited and finally released to the unsuspecting audience. The characters were unified in their stupidity, the character buildup was forced and felt unnatural. The visual effects seemed to have been created by an 8 year old boy using MS-Paint (and not in a good way). The acting was absolutely shameful and degrading. I feel sorry for all those involved in the making of this waste of time in film disguise.
hear my words, those responsible for the movie need be avenged!



  1. Well, now I feel better, seeing I am not the only one wasting money by paying race inscriptions for nothing...

    1. Haha... Yeah, it's not the first time, either. Oh well, there are a lot of other things I'd far rather give my money away to...